Tuesday, February 26, 2013
|As Lito became Conroy Field then later Isely Field in 1944|
Saipan airport exhibit shows As Lito airfield evolution
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
Associate editor / reporter
(Published in June 2012)
IT was the first operational airbase in Micronesia. Such was the historical significance and importance of the Aslito airfield, where the present Saipan International Airport now stands and where an exhibit chronicling its evolution is on display.
Northern Marianas Humanities Council executive director Scott Russell and University of Guam and Australia National University research associate Wakako Higuchi teamed up to work on the 10-panel exhibit now on display in the airport’s departure area.
Russell told Variety that it took them close to three years, including research, to put it all together.
“The field was actually the first in Micronesia to have had aircraft land on it. We knew none of this before Wakako [Higuchi] began her research,” said Russell.
Acknowledging Higuchi’s research, Russell said she relied on primary Japanese sources that they did not have access to before.
“She found new information that had not been published, at least in English, previously about the early development of Aslito,” he said.
Higuchi, for her part, told Variety that initially, she could not find any reference to Aslito, “but I started to pick up little by little from archival information.”
Being in English and Japanese was a requirement of the Historic Preservation Office for the Commonwealth Ports Authority to have the public exhibit, which shows the airport’s development and its historical significance.
Russell told Variety that the idea behind this exhibit is to research the history of both airfields and the roles they played during the war and to be able to get the information in two languages at the airport.
The resulting 10-panel exhibit, whose layout and production was overseen by Dr. Dave Tuggle, shows in prose and photographs the development of the formerly sugarcane farmlands into Aslito Airfield during the Japanese period, to Isely Field under the Americans, and to the present Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport.
In her studies, Higuchi discovered Aslito Airfield used to be part of the Nanyo Kohatsu Kaisha’s farmlands.
“It was a Japanese sugarcane farm,” said Higuchi, who pored over documents about the Japanese Administration Period in the Marianas in the Japanese Defense Ministry.
“I studied research about Aslito, then I found how significant the area itself [was] for Japan and the Japanese Administration of the Marianas,” confessed Higuchi.
Russell said there are two parts to Aslito: Aslito and Isely.
As Lito, he said, was the Japanese Navy air station, and then there was Isely Field, which was the first operational B-29 base in the Marianas.
According to Russell, the two fields were both important for their own reason.
Russell told Variety, “The new Saipan International Airport sits on the two airfields.”
He said there was Aslito, then Isely on top of Aslito, and finally the Saipan International Airport on top of Isely.
Asked if their research on Aslito would be made available elsewhere, Russell said “the exhibit is just specific to the airport.”
Located at the east side of the departure area, the exhibit, according to Russell, gives people who use the airport an understanding of the historical significance of where they are.
Russell and Higuchi trace the early beginnings of Aslito from the founding of the village in the 1920s as part of the sugarcane cultivation.
Matsue Haruji, also known as the Sugar King, made possible the growth of the sugarcane industry on Saipan, with Aslito the first farm placed under cultivation by Matsue’s company Nanyo Kohatsu Kabushiki Kaisha.
As part of the Japanese Imperial Navy operation, the NKK was ordered by the Navy to cede 245 acres of farmland and covertly convert this expanse of flatland into an airstrip, efforts they kept under wraps in order to avoid stirring the suspicions of U.S. military forces on Guam.
On July 20, 1933, a squadron of 10 Mitsubishi B2M1 carrier attack bombers shipped from Tateyama, Japan took off from Aslito and headed to Pagan.
This flight was integral to the Special-Great Exercise conducted in the Marianas-Ogasawara area, which lasted for 86 days.
The presence of the Emperor Hirohito himself, who observed the exercise from aboard the battleship Hiei, and the participation of Prince Fushimi Hiroyasu and three members of the imperial household, made the exercise a significant one.
Following the completion of the Saipan-Pagan flight, the Aslito airfield was abandoned, only to be revived in 1937 when a survey was commissioned to lay out an L-shaped airfield.
To accommodate the new facility, the NKK ceded 1,960 more acres of sugarcane farmlands.
Thus commenced the three-year, three-phased construction of the airfield.
By the end of 1939, the Aslito Naval Air Base had a 1,200 m. long and 800 m. wide paved runway.
Aslito became the first operational airbase in Micronesia.
But the airfield would soon pass hands to the Americans, when they invaded Saipan on June 15, 1944.
On June 18, 1944, the 165th Regimental Combat Team headed by Colonel Gerard W. Kelly secured the airfield with no opposition from Japanese forces.
The Aslito Airfield was renamed Conroy Field in honor of Colonel Gardiner J. Conroy, former head of the combat team, who was killed in action in the Gilbert Islands.
This was short-lived as the Navy renamed the airfield Isely Field in honor of Commander Robert H. Isely, who was shot and killed while leading an attack against Aslito.
On Nov. 24, 111 B-29s of the 73rd Bomb Wing took off from Isely Field to conduct the first air raid mission on Japan.
Under General Curtis Lemay, the U.S. revised its air raid strategy with by dropping incendiary bombs during low-level night raids.
This strategy was tested on March 9, 1945 when a total of 334 B-29s from Saipan, Guam and Tinian flew to Japan between 5,000 to 7,000 feet of altitude carrying 2,000 tons of bombs.
In 10 months of combat, the 73rd Bomb Wing flew 9,894 combat sorties and dropped close to 50,000 tons of firebombs.
Isely was then considered one of the world’s largest airbases, with two paved 8,500-foot taxiways and 186 hardstands.
From 1945 until its closure in 1949, the airfield was used for emergency and refueling purposes.
Over the next two decades, commercial flights used Koblerville Field, until its deterioration in 1968 led to the revival of Isely Field.
On Dec. 15, 1975, the first commercial aircraft landed on what is now known as the Saipan International Airport.
Higuchi believes that understanding the history of the airfields will lead one to understand Saipan’s place in history.
Said Russell, “That airfield played a very significant role in both the prewar and WWII era histories of Japan, the U.S. and the Marianas.”
He only wished that the exhibit could have been located in a more prominent area, so more people could learn to appreciate the airport’s place not just in American and Japanese but also world history.
PROVIDING the impetus for the launch of the $13.1 million State Small Business Credit Initiative, or SSBCI, in the CNMI, U.S. Treasury’s outreach manager David Rixter and Michigan Economic Development Corp. vice president for capital services Paul Brown met with local lenders and bank executives yesterday at the Commonwealth Development Authority office to discuss the prospects for the federal loan program.
Rixter encouraged the lending community to look at the program and see its potential. “Look at SSBCI. It is an easy program. It makes sense. It is complementary to SBA programs. It’s simple.”
He said, “Take a look at us. we are a great program. There is money here that needs to be expended. It is a great opportunity.”
Rixter said they have met their objectives as they managed to gather the lenders and bank representatives.
Yesterday, Rixter and Brown, along with Commerce Deputy Secretary Ivan Blanco and CDA officials met with bank and lending firm representatives from Bank of Hawaii, Bank of Saipan, Bank of the FSM, CitiTrust Bank, and Bridge Capital LLC.
Rixter said they have accomplished what they intended to do on Saipan — “to gather the lending community here in the CNMI.”
“The fact that we have eight lending representatives here shows us that there is a need for small business lending and small business growth,” he said.
Because the CNMI, Guam and American Samoa are isolated from the contiguous U.S., Rixter said, it was important for them to come over to promote the SSBCI.
The federal program has allocated $13.1 million to the CNMI and anticipates making available $130 million in private financing in the CNMI in the next five years.
The CNMI, through the Department of Commerce, received its first allocation of $4.35 million last year.
“I believe that we have a responsibility to the community in the Pacific to spur your economic growth and help facilitate job growth and job retention,” said Rixter.
The program which was made possible by the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 has so far released $305 million in SSBCI funds across the nation according to Rixter.
“Right now, the CNMI hasn’t deployed any funds,” said Rixter.
He said this was the reason he and Brown were on Saipan so they can get things moving.
He said, “It is a combination of the banks, borrowers, and federal funds all coming together so we can actually extend the credit.”
Brown and Rixter fielded questions from the bank and lending firm representatives regarding the implementation of both the loan purchase participation and collateral support programs.
Both Brown and Rixter also went to the governor’s office yesterday and met with Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider.
The governor’s office, in a statement, said, “Their visit was an attestation of the U.S. Treasury’s support for the CNMI State Small Business Credit Initiative.”
For more information on the SSBCI program in the CNMI, contact CDA at 234-6245 or Commerce at 664-3000.
In search of Amelia Earhart's ring
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
Variety News Staff
SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands — VETERAN filmmakers and Amelia Earhart researchers are looking for her ring or parts of her airplane which some believed was destroyed on this island.
In last Friday’s public presentation at American Memorial Park arranged by the Northern Marianas Humanities Council, a member of the audience’s second-hand story about Amelia Earhart’s ring piqued the interest of the Earhart investigators.
Veteran documentary filmmaker Rich Martini, who previously interviewed U.S. Marines who claimed they saw Amelia Earhart’s plane on Saipan in 1944, asked the Matilde Arriola descendant in the audience for permission to interview her. “I want to tape you now, tonight or tomorrow at Uncle Dave [Sablan]’s office?”
“It’s not my story actually,” the lady replied.
Martini said that they welcome second-hand accounts.
She said since she was a little girl, she has heard the story of an American woman who was here on Saipan.
She also spoke of the ring that was handed to Matilde Arriola and later given to Trinidad — the grandmother of the audience member.
She said, “Grandma’s sister gave it to my grandma.”
She said it became a family heirloom.
There were occasions too when she was made to draw the ring.
Martini asked her for more information about the ring.
She said, “I am not really sure. It had a stone.”
Referring to an interview conducted by Fr. Arnold Bendowske in 1977 with Matilde Fausto Arriola, Martini said it was an extensive one.
He said based on that interview, “The ring was white, white gold in a white setting.”
Based on his reading and research on Earhart, Martini said Earhart never wore jewelry.
He said, “She did have one ring — it was platinum.”
Martini did say that Earhart had been given gifts everywhere she stopped on her world tour.
“Somewhere along the way she may have picked up the ring,” said Martini.
Martini also found it interesting that someone would borrow jewelry. “There is something weird about the story. Who borrows jewelry?”
According to accounts, Trinidad borrowed the ring, then took it to Chuuk where she lost it.
Martini asked if the grandmother’s house still existed.
The Arriola relative said, “Yes.”
She said she wouldn’t be able to locate it, but her mother would.
Martini asked her to help them find the ring.
Martini made arrangements to talk further with her.
On their website, earhartonsaipan.com, the Earhart researchers wrote, “We are going to their old home tomorrow to dowse and use ground penetrating radar for the ring — which was reportedly lost during a rainstorm somewhere under the old house.”
Earhart’s ring was mentioned by Matilde Fausto Arriola in her 1977 interview with Fr. Arnold Bendowske.
Bendowske told Arriola that he was asked by Admiral Carroll through Bishop Flores to have the interview by tape.
According to the tape transcript, Arriola recalled that Earhart “knew my sister, Consolacion, when she was going to the school with the sisters. She gave Consolacion a ring and then also some kind of balsam that smelled good. She gave her that and the ring.”
Bendowske asked her what kind of ring, Arriola said, “Father, the stone was a white stone and I believe it was white gold, the setting which she gave my sister. There was a stone in the ring. And when she came to the house she gave my sister…and when my sister was sick, she took the ring off of her finger and gave me that ring and I took care of that ring until after the war. And then Trinidad, the daughter of my brother, borrowed the ring when they went to Truk and it was lost there.”
Arriola’s house was not far from Hotel Kobayashi Royokan where Earhart stayed or was held by the Japanese.
She said, “That woman came to our house and sort of peeped in from the outside when she was coming from or going to the outside toilet and that was how she used to pass by our house, because we were located between the short distance of the place where she was staying, called a hotel, and the outside toilet.”
Arriola believed that she could have been suffering from diarrhea.
She claimed she saw her speak to her brother and mother in English. She also said that she appeared to have burns from cooking oil.
She told Bendowske in that 1977 interview, “She got burnt. It was on one side of her and her hand had burn marks. The woman did look sick to me. My mother said the same thing.”
She told Bendowske that she figured the woman died when wreaths were ordered.
But the last time she saw her, “When she left for the last time, she held my hand very tightly…”